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why ballet is still so pale...

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I used to work with a fine African-American dancer, and she told me that the feedback from her peers (there were few) and contemporaries (there were many) showed a sharp disconnect. Her colleagues were all supportive but her African-American contemporaries were all opposed to her dancing in a ballet company. She said that she was called "Aunt Thomasina" a lot!

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Now THAT is an interesting comment Mr. Johnson! I suppose part of the problem resides also in the fact that (black) could possibly face uncomprehension(sp?) from both sides. Dancing is perhaps for most a <lonely> search for expressive freedom through movement. I refer to it as lonely in the sense that one is constantly within herself, her body, and must forgoe many social activities in order to excell in the craft, even if there eventually is a socialisation process within a company and at ballet school.

However if your peers support you in your endeavors, it must make things easier. To whom do you turn to when you are alone in your quest?(I suppose boys in ballet must experiment such a thing, although they are generally more encline to be favored by the industry, they do not often receive general positive response from other non-ballet dancing boys.(but i will not get into that, I do not know the dynamics of this problematic).

Maybe the ones who <made it >or are most likely to <make it> are the ones who received support from their peers? Erika Lambe comes to my mind since she is the 3rd generation of pioneers in the performing arts. But I can't generalize with that one example that comes to my mind.

So 1 side (the n-colored, although not always the case, as in M. Johnson's example) tends to reject <does not see them as right for the part> and the other side( peers ) <do not seem to understand why they would pursue an art that 'rejects' them from within....>(which is a comment I have heard addressed to myself by some peers, although I am not yet near the professional level. but I must confess alot of my peers a actually proud of my achievements. Maybe there could be also a correlation with social economic factors...).

Hard thing to experiment when growing up...

No wonder so few make it to pro level.

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:D:yahoo: Hi Sylphide! No: Virginia Johnson isn't my Sorority sister; Judith Jamison the AD of Alvin Ailey Dance Co. is. She was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. as an Honorary Member several years ago during one of our national conventions. Other illustrious members from the opera world are

Beverly Sills (also an Honorary Member), and Leontyne Price who pledged

as an undergraduate.

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Greetings Cygnet.

Woops...mistake from my part :yahoo: , I got too carried away.

Glad to hear about your other illustrious sisters too!

Really cool :D

Hope one day my school too will have such privilege.

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Greetings Cygnet.

Woops...mistake from my part :( , I got too carried away.

Glad to hear about your other illustrious sisters too!

Really cool :blink:

Hope one day my school too will have such privilege.

greetings.I had heard that something nice had been said about me and I wanted to say thanks, but also to give a little insight to the topic...

Thank you for mentioning me in a positive way this ....I feel very fortunate to have had exapmles in my Grandfather, and my mother who made names for themselves in the Arts and consiquently exposed my sister and I to everything available..

I think it is extremely important for people to have examples but they don't always have to be of the same race...

I think there was a time when it was difficult for dancer of color to branch beyond Dance Theatre of Harlem because I don't think teachers really knew what to do with some balck body types..I think someone mentioned flat feet and for a long time, that was an issue so black dancers were encouraged to study Modern or Jazz.

I was growing up in a time where teachers were trying new things and students emulated the older dancers...If we were sitting around before class and someone was stretching their feet or something, we'd all try to see who could go the farthest...

I think ballet is just one of those Artforms that will always have a small number of black men and women simply because if the culture of it...

Someone mentioned a friend being called less than black because she was studying ballet and that still happens today...

If a black child from a not so priveledged upbringing wants to study ballet, I think many of them might be discouraged because there have been so few "success" stories and people still don't believe you can make a living being a dancer regardless of your race...It might become an issue of the first generation to go to college and they want to become a dancer instead. Their parents might not reallize that they can do both now adays...Have a career and prepare for the next is has and is still being done...

I think it is really important for Ballet companies to continue with outreach programs and dance camps that expose this to people who might not have had the exposure before...

Now that I am not dancing, I have been available to teach in the outreach program for boston ballet and it has been wonderful.One of the neatest things was going to the schools and selecting the students...there is a team of three dancers who bring pictures and talk about dance and I happen to be a dancer in one of the posters. I am doing a grande jete and the picture was taken at a good time...But I loved seeing the kids look at the picture and ask if it was me. That was their proof that they could start too...

I think that if lecture demos and things like that continue, more people might be inclined to start

As for the young black students and teachers out there...Keep going...

It isn't impossible and sometimes it can be amazing...

The bottom line is that you have to want it and go for it.

In terms of ballet companies and the lack of black dancers, it is a two way street.I think many black dancers don't audition for major companies or ballet schools because they fear there won't be a place for them or that they won't be given the same opportunities...You'll never know if you don't try. If one place doesn't work out, try andother before you give up...

The other thing is that you have to have something special. Because of affirmative action and things like that, black kids have usualy gotten into the ballet schools of their choice, but if you want to go anywhere with your career, you have to give people a reason to want to see you onstage.

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Many thanks, rolande, for sharing your experience and your thoughts. Best of luck in your work with the Boston Ballet outreach program!

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Greetings rolande:

:huepfen024: :huepfen024: :hyper: :huepfen024: :huepfen024:

What an honor!

Thanks SOOOOO much for sharing your thoughts. Those are precious words from someone who many of us have as a role model.

Can I frame your post?

Wow, I must imagine how it felt when you said:

But I loved seeing the kids look at the picture and ask if it was me. That was their proof that they could start too...

That must indeed have been a special and heart warming experience and the very best of luck with your work. Seems to me you already started to plant the ballet seeds in some little heads.

A thousand thanks!

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Thanks, rolande, for your post. It is good to hear some positive remarks about what can be done to change the current situation.

I appreciate the insights into Boston Ballet's outreach program. I wish all companies -- especially smaller companies, who often do not have huge performance demands and should be looking for all sorts of alternative venues -- would make this part of their mission. And not only to inner-city schools. More and more kids of all sorts of social background are being deprived of the arts. Iin my experience, performance by even a few magnificently trained ballet dancers is always captivating to young people, even if the kids are initiall uncomfortable or even dismissive.

All kids can appreciate the physical difficulty of ballet, and the artistry involved in performing well. They also benefit from the lessons about the dedication and hard work needed to produce art, glamour, and illusion. This could also be a way to get Ballet Guilds, and even major contributors with social consciences, involved.

Bringing a few reporters and photographers along on these excursions would be great publicity. Scholarship tickets to productions could help fill seats and also bring much-needed vivacity and variety to the audience, something often needed as hard-core ballet goers become increasingly gray.

I also agree with your advice about auditions: "You''ll never know if you don't try." Negative self-fulfilling prophecies certainly play their role in keeping people back.

Good luck in your new endeavors! This seems to me to be so important that I am going to start another topic (in Anyhthing Goes) asking for input about what outreach activities ather ballet companies are undertaking in their cities.

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This seems to me to be so important that I am going to start another topic (in Anyhthing Goes) asking for input about what outreach activities ather ballet companies are undertaking in their cities.

Great initiative Bart!

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My five year old niece, a very enthusiastic and musical child, has begun pre-ballet classes. She is the child of a white mother (my sister) and a black father and is herself a black child.

Upon hearing that she was beginning ballet classes, my aunt, who was a professional dancer and is not by nature prejudiced, said "well - you won't see any chocolate drops in the corps of the Australian Ballet Company". She was not making a racist comment, but was simply making a statement of fact. There has never, to my knowledge, been a black dancer with the company and I don't expect to see one in the near future.

Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'? I don't have any answers here, but these were the types of questions that this personal situation raised in my own mind. I believe it is naive to claim that the colour of the skin doesn't matter when it comes to traditional classical companies. Companies have numerous rules when employing dancers regarding appearance - body shape, height etc - so why would the issue of colour be any different? Personally, I love to watch talented dancers of any colour, height, sex, race - but perhaps not everyone feels this way.

While the argument of economics and accessability may have some basis in fact, the same could be said for the cost of educating a lawyer or doctor.

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NYCB presently has several African-American men in its corps and one (badly underutilized) principal. It has usually had one female corps dancer over the past 30 or so years, but does not at present.

Misty Copeland and Danny Tidwell, both of whom are black, are up and coming dancers in the corps of ABT. Danny, IMHO, has the makings of a fine prince. The interesting thing will be seeing if ABT's artistic direction shares my estimation of him and shows the courage (although it really shouldn't be considered that in this day) to push him in that direction.

When I look at a stage full of swans or shades, wilis or nymphs, I have never found a black one (or two) any more irregular or distracting than the occasional red head.

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Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'? I don't have any answers here, but these were the types of questions that this personal situation raised in my own mind.

In the companies I see, this happens all the time. In the Dutch National, for instance, there are Asian dancers in all ranks, there are two fairly prominent Latin-American dancers, straight from the San Francisco Ballet, and a couple of dancers whom you would describe as black.

I think it's one thing to say "there aren't that many black dancers." It is however an entirely different thing to say ADs are deliberately keeping them out.

As I said before, I suspect companies, expecially US companies would love to have good black dancers in their line-up, for reasons of inclusiveness.

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I forget if it was during ABT’s last Met Opera house season or the one before, but Misty Copeland was cast as a shade in La Bayadere, and during the part of the kingdom of the shades scene when they are all lined up doing those long balances she was front and center, right in the first row of dancers. I must admit that it was a little distracting, simply because your eye was constantly drawn to her rather than taking in the sweep of the whole scene on stage. But no more so than if she had been exceptionally tall or, as carbro said, a redhead! And what a beautiful dancer. One of the great pleasures of the past few ABT seasons has been watching her take the opportunities management has been giving her and make the most of them. At City Center she and another young dancer (maybe Grant DeLong?) were given the leads in a late season performance of Amazed in Burning Dreams and the audience just loved them. For some reason there were a lot of teenagers sitting in my vicinity and they just went wild for them. I still remember one girl behind me saying to another “ I wonder if she knows how beautiful she is, and how much we all love her”. I didn’t notice if the girls were black or white or another race entirely - but it was great to hear the excitement and adulation in their voices...

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I think this isnt only an American thing. For instance I comb the corps in the POB videos to find anyone remotely Mediterranean looking (olive skin, curly black hair) and I see none.

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Upon hearing that she was beginning ballet classes, my aunt, who was a professional dancer and is not by nature prejudiced, said "well - you won't see any chocolate drops in the corps of the Australian Ballet Company". She was not making a racist comment, but was simply making a statement of fact. There has never, to my knowledge, been a black dancer with the company and I don't expect to see one in the near future.

Do you place one black dancer in an all white corps, or as an AD, would you consider that this would be 'jarring' from a purely aesthetic viewpoint - just as you would not put one member of the corps in a red tutu when the rest are wearing blue? Is it more acceptable to place an Asian dancer in the corps as the lighter skin tone 'blends in more'?

Thank you, Danceintheblood, for your report, which shows that the old "aesthetic" argument in favor of lily-white (or at least pale) classical ballet is still alive, at least in Australia. If your aunt is correct, and this is artistic policy, shame on the Australian Ballet Company.

This is the same argument raised frequentlyat the time of Balanchine's integration of NYCB with Arthur Mitchell -- and which has finally ceased to be respectable in this country. Red tutus are things. No human values are violated by requiring that a professional dancer wear that a color. Skin color, on the other hand, is a human quality that cannot be changed (unless we're going to require white make up was done earlier in the 20th century). There is NO "purely aesthetic viewpoint" possible, given the damaging history of the world as regards to "racial" distinctions. It's time for fans of classical ballet to get over it, as others have in virtually every other area of artistic performance, worklife, education, and so many other formerly segregated fields.

Edited by bart

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Perhaps the difficulty you had in imagining a black dancer in a 19th century role, Drew, had to do with the fact that all the ballets that have come down to us from that time are very European.  Maybe imagining someone of African descent as a European was too jarring.

Nobody seems to have any trouble with dancers of European descent dancing La Bayadere, which, last I checked, was not set remotely close to Europe. There are other examples as well.

This whole issue is so complex I don't know where to begin. And I suspect that's the basic problem: no one knows where to begin, and everybody is afraid that if you just begin somewhere it won't do any good because there are too many influences.

But, I'll hazard a guess and say the best solution is for companies to hire more diversely, even if they perceive they are "dropping their artistic standards" at first. They need to create a market, or of course young people of color are not going to waste their time and money getting trained. Will this turn off the patrons? If so ... they need to find some new patrons. I'm guessing that some expert PR would take care of this anyway.

Finally, I'll say that while it is not what I'd call racially balanced, the Joffrey has a noticeable number of non-white bodies on stage, and every year it seems to bring at least one or two dancers of color into the apprentice program. I really, really appreciate this commitment.

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A historical note. One of America's very first male dancers, trained well enough to partner Fanny Elssler in the 1840s and later a noted teacher, was George Washington Smith, whose ethnicity is recorded in history books as "mulatto." Audiences of the day accepted him as Albrecht and James. (Apologies if Smith has already been mentioned on this thread.)

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When I look at a stage full of swans or shades, wilis or nymphs, I have never found a black one (or two) any more irregular or distracting than the occasional red head.

Forgive the self-citation :blush: , but I had an afterthought :smilie_mondieu: :

The nature of ballet is changing. ABT aside (infuriatingly so, but that's a different topic), most American companies depend less and less on the rigidly heirarchical ballets in the 19th century style with a corps of 24 "perfectly matched" ladies. The tendency in new ballets seems to bend toward either small corps deployed in less regimented choreography or ensemble works in which each dancer is a distinct individual. The (mis)perceived need for pigment conformity is less and less relevant, anyway.

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National Ballet of Cuba, at least, performs the 19th century classics with an integrated corps. It's not as integrated as it was when I first saw the company in the late 1970s, but it's a lot more integrated than any American company I know. (It's not the ballets that are the problem.)

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National Ballet of Cuba, at least, performs the 19th century classics with an integrated corps.  It's not as integrated as it was when I first saw the company in the late 1970s, but it's a lot more integrated than any American company I know.  (It's not the ballets that are the problem.)

Cuba has long been a mixed race society, and the ranks of National Ballet of Cuba show this well. The Company, exquisitely trained by Alicia Alonso, has been losing dancers to companies worldwide over the last half dozen years. Among them are the Feijoo sisters (Lorna in Boston and Lorena at SFB), Carlos Acosta, and Karel Cruz, a gorgeous, tall, elegant dancer in the PNB corps. Three of the 14 principal dancers in Miami City Ballet are from Cuba. (Three more are from Latin and South America.) While this is sad for Alonso, it is a privilege for the audiences who have "stolen" them. It's hard to imagine that the NBdC can hire everyone from the school, even with the "defections." And the opportunity that companies in the US and Europe can offer is immense, particularly when a dancer can support not only him/herself, but also help to support his/her family and the school that trained him/her. (Even if the value of the US dollar has diminshed.)

Dance Theatre of Harlem has a roster of 45, and has had a number of difficult times over the past few decades. It's hard to believe that at any of several points, at least some DTH dancers wouldn't have left for the opportunity to dance in other companies that are more stable -- and in places less expensive in which to survive than NYC -- and given the small number of places in the Company available to each graduating class, that there aren't well-trained black dancers (particularly women) who, while their first choice is DTH, wouldn't want to dance with other classical companies.

All companies with schools want to train their own dancers, but looking at the rosters of Companies across the US, most have hired European and Asian dancers as well as American dancers who've performed with other companies. They comprise dancers from every level of the hierarchy, including, most significantly, the corps. It's not entirely a matter of "not invented here" (or "until we can grow our own.")

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But, I'll hazard a guess and say the best solution is for companies to hire more diversely, even if they perceive they are "dropping their artistic standards" at first.  They need to create a market, or of course young people of color are not going to waste their time and money getting trained.  Will this turn off the patrons?  If so ... they need to find some new patrons.  I'm guessing that some expert PR would take care of this anyway.

I'm completely puzzled by this. "Young people of color are not going to waste their time and money" training for ballet (it's your assumption), and nonetheless companies should hire iffy dancers and just turn up the PR machine a couple notches and people will love it?

If so why do ballet anyway? It only gets in the way of the PR...

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Houston Ballet has several black dancers (including one, Cleopatra Williams, who went to my school for all but her last year of training!) and really -- I don't see the problem. They dance in the corps, they dance as soloists, Lauren Anderson danced both as Cleopatra (who they say looked Greek) and every other possible classical role.

I don't really think it's so much of an issue. Like Treefrog said--does La Bayadere ring a bell? What about any other number of ballets where clearly, there can be no historical accuracy with an all-white cast?

I really don't see this so much as racism; I see it more as talented black students who are interested in dance being turned to modern, jazz, and hip hop simply because of greater amounts of black role models there.

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Marenetha, thanks for your reply about Houston. Your last paragraph has a ring of truth and sense to it.

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Yesterday I went to the recital for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Seattle School's Creative Movement and Pre-Ballet II classes at the Phelps Center (among other things, where the Seattle PNB school is located.) The Creative Movement kids are 5-6 years old and the Pre-Ballet kids are 7. Among them I saw a handful of Asian girls, 3 or so black girls, and two (maybe three?) boys out of 48 kids listed on the program. (And if I were the lone boy in the Creative Movement IV, and, indeed, I did have a little ball of white feathers stuck to the back of my tights for "Ducks in a Row," -- it was hard to tell for sure from the back row -- I would refuse to go back.)

After each group of children performed, they sat on the floor in front of the chairs set up in the main studio, where by the end, they had prime seats to watch 16 Professional Division students perform excerpts from Paquita. To me it looked like an all-Caucasian group of PD students. I raise this, because two of the points of the recital are 1. to show the parents how many of the PD dancers started in these programs and 2. to show the children what they should and could aspire to.

Edited by hockeyfan228

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Those interested in the implications of this topic for ballet should have a look at the London Times interview with Carlos Acosta (May 15, 2005, LINKS). He makes some interesting comments near the end. (It's a great interview, too.)

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